Note: This post is an excerpt from the seminar notebook that accompanies the “Take the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar.
Memorial Ceremony for an Unborn Child
Grieving the loss of an unborn child can be particularly difficult. No one else had the privilege of knowing your baby and, therefore, many of the rituals of grief (i.e., sharing pictures or stories of how the lost loved one touched other’s lives) cannot be engaged. Because no one else knew their baby, parents often try to take this journey of grief alone.
What follows are suggestions for how to honor your lost child and facilitate your own grieving process. Do not consider this appendix to be a recipe to be followed directly, but as a collection of ideas to take what best applies to your situation. Some families who lose their baby may chose not to utilize a service like this one. A small group or church family should be considerate of the family’s wishes when offering to help in this way.
The suggestions recommended below will be incorporated in the memorial service outlined at the end of this appendix.
Name Your Baby: This will be important for not only the memorial, but for the on-going grief process. This will allow you to reference your child in future conversations (which is healthy). Without a name, you and others will be more likely to begin to live as if the loss never happened within a matter of weeks. Parents may change the name they intended to call their child without feeling as they are
dishonoring their baby. The goal in naming the baby is to accept the loss as real, not to say that nothing has or can change.
Write a Good-Bye Letter: With many losses we see death coming and get to say good-bye. With miscarriage there is both surprise and your child would not have been able to hear your words. A letter allows you to put your initial grief into words which can be heard by family and friends at the memorial. It allows you to process these early experiences of your grief and to feel more understood.
Memorial Box: This is not a casket, but a place to keep some precious things (i.e., blanket, small toys, birth/death certificates, ultra sound pictures, good-bye letter, notes from friends, your grief journal, etc…). A memorial box can allow your child to always have a place of remembrance in your home without the “enshrinement effect” that comes with having a room devoted to your lost child.
Get a Grief Journal: You will have many thoughts and experience many emotions in the coming months. You may fear forgetting what you are thinking and feeling, because it is all you have left of your baby. A journal is a healthy place to capture those thoughts and emotions. One option many mothers have found helpful is Mommy, Please Don’t Cry by Linda DeYmaz. This journal also serves as a place to gather your thoughts so that you have an answer when friends, family, or small group members ask, “How are you doing?”
Don’t Rush the Memorial: Planning and conducting the memorial is an important part of the grieving process. It confirms that this is a real loss, one to be acknowledged by those who love you, and that there is a journey of grief ahead. It is during the planning and conducting of a memorial that denial can wear off and a network of friends be established to support you in the weeks and months ahead.
Plant a Tree / Garden: Often with a miscarriage one of the difficulties in the grief process is that there is nowhere to go and grieve or to place flowers on your child’s birthday and other special occasions. Planting a tree can provide you a place to go and remember. It also provides a visual reminder of the passing of time and personal growth as you see the tree mature. If a family chooses to plant a tree or garden, this would determine the location of the ceremony and would need to be in a place where the property would not be sold or outside a home from which the family planned to move.
Create a Time Capsule: It can make the memorial seem more real funeral if there is something to bury. With the planting of a tree, you might also bury a time capsule with a copy of your good-bye letter, toys you had purchased, medical bracelets/papers from the
DNC visit, a list of the dreams for this child you are surrendering to God, or other memorable items.
Planning the Memorial
As you plan the memorial, remember this is not a means to an end, but a part of the grief process. Taking the time to plan a memorial
confirms the reality of your grief. You did not just have a medical procedure. You lost a child, and it is right to grieve.
Planning the ceremony is a time of very beneficial conversation with your spouse and children. Often families are not sure how to talk to one another, what is acceptable to say or feel, or when to bring up the subject. If this ice is not broken, grief becomes stifled for everyone. Planning a ceremony is a good way to open the lines of communication. The outline below should help facilitate these conversations. Each member of the family can feel free to say what he/she likes and dislikes without fearing they may be insulting another family member’s idea.
The guest list is also important. It is wise to invite more people than you think will come. The memorial is a way to announce your loss so
that you do not have to face as many excited “how’s the baby?” questions in the weeks ahead. Also, by inviting people to the memorial, you will feel less pressure to “act normal.” Having a ceremony declares that normal has been disrupted in a significant way and that it will be a while before normal returns.
A Memorial Ceremony
Note: Use this section as a suggestion and not a template. Make it your own. The material below is merely meant to give you something to build from at a time when it is hard to concentrate and there are so many other things on your mind.
Officiate: Ask a pastor or small group leader to conduct the memorial. Your role should be to participate in the memorial; not to try to
Preparation: Depending on what elements of the service you use, some preparation may be needed. It is fine to ask friends and family to help with digging the hole for the time capsule, preparing food for a follow up meal, or handling childcare.
Opening Scripture & Prayer:
Psalm 139:13-18 (ESV), “For you formed my [may choose to use the child’s name throughout the Psalm reading] inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts O God! How vast is the sum of them! If you count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.”
Lord, we come to you with broken hearts because Your Word it true. [Name] was fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful and we longed to know them in [name’s] life. You knew [name] intimately from conception and know him/her even now. We come because we will not get the privilege of knowing [name] this side of heaven and that hurts us.
- Words of prayer for family
- Words of prayer for mother
- Words of prayer for father
- Words of prayer for siblings
- Words of prayer for grandparents and extended family present
Lord, we do hold your thoughts as precious even when we do not understand them. We admit we cannot understand this and it pains us. We ask that You would comfort us with the knowledge that when we are awake thinking about [name], that [name] is awake with You. Amen.
Reading of Parent’s Good-Bye Letter:
This can be done by the family standing together, one member of the family, or by the memorial officiate on behalf of the family. After reading the letter the family can place the letter (and any items of significance referenced in the letter) in the time capsule to be buried.
Reading of Words from Others:
The family might ask certain other people to write their thoughts and reflections to be read at this time. If so, it would be wise to have these pieces written out to ensure they are fitting for a memorial service. At the conclusion of reading each of these the individual would have two copies of his/her statement. First, the individual would walk to the parents/siblings and give them a copy for the memory box. Second, the individual would go to the time capsule and place a copy there.
Planting of Tree and Time Capsule:
Officiate: Throughout Scripture we find that God encourages His people to make places of remembrance for burial of loved ones. We find in this the tenderness and mercy of our God. God was not content to merely bring [name] to Himself in heaven, but He also is concerned to care for [mom’s name, dad’s name, sibling by name] until they are reunited with [name] in the presence of Jesus.
When we lose an unborn child families often do not receive the grace of God that comes from a place of remembrance. As those who love and care for [mom’s name, dad’s name, sibling by name] we wanted to make sure that was not the case for them. We will be planting a tree in memory of [name] (say a few words about the type of tree or location where tree is planted if either has particular meaning).
[Looking at family] God wants you to have a place to remember. He cares for you. And we, as your family and friends, want to be an extension of his care for you in the weeks and months ahead. Having a place to grieve is not all that you will need. You will need to know that you do not have to grieve alone or in silence. We want to be the Body of Christ to you on this journey and sharing your tears will be our privilege.
[Looking at attendees] The [last name] family will be keeping a memory box of precious items from [name’s] life. I would encourage you in the days and weeks ahead to write out how God has used [name], the shared experience of joy over pregnancy and grief over miscarriage, and how the [last name] family’s example has strengthened your walk with the Lord. These letters will be precious reminders of the impact [name] had and a confirmation that he/she was as real as their pain testifies. As they are stored in their memory box, these letters will become the fond stories they re-visit like the stories you retell with your family about lost loved ones.
Plant tree and time capsule. [For this time having a song selected – whether played/sung live or on CD – to allow for a worshipful
meditation and prevent silence from making an awkward distraction before the end of the service.]
Closing Scripture & Prayers:
Mark 10:13-16 (ESV), “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
Lord, we are grateful for this picture of what [name] is experiencing as we gather. Our loss and grief is made bearable and has hope because of Your love for children. We also come to you as children. In moments like these our world seems bigger than we can handle and we strongly sense our need for our Father’s protection. There are things we cannot explain to our children and we ask them to trust us. This is an experience we cannot understand and so we express a child-like faith that is full of questions and emotions.
We pray a special protection over the hearts and minds of [mom’s name, dad’s name, sibling by name]. Give them a special awareness of your presence and care in the coming days. Amen
[Officiate: Give instructions of how the memorial will conclude.]
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Grief” post which address other facets of this subject.